HP's Software Doesn't Care About Black People

By Jessica Greene
|  Tuesday, Dec 22, 2009  |  Updated 9:55 AM EDT
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The customer, Desi, shows how HP's Webcam face-tracking software doesn't track his black face.

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The world's largest computer maker is learning a lesson from one of its customers.

HP has new software that allows its PC webcams to track faces. That means when you're talking to your friends and family across the miles, you can move about the frame and the camera will follow you.

Unless you're black, it seems.

A customer named Desi and his coworker, Wanda, demonstrated the flaw and posted the video on YouTube. It's pretty funny, but a slap in the face for company.

"As soon as my blackness enters the frame, it stops tracking," Desi says on the video.

Desi invites his coworker, "White Wanda," to enter the camera's frame. Sure enough, the camera follows her around as she moves.

"I'm going on record and saying it: Hewlett-Packard computers are racist," Desi said with a laugh.

HP isn't laughing. Instead, they're taking the lesson and plan to make changes. In a blog entry on its web site, the company's "lead social media strategist" addressed the issue:

Everything we do is focused on ensuring that we provide a high-quality experience for all our customers, who are ethnically diverse and live and work around the world. That’s why when issues surface, we take them seriously and work hard to understand the root causes. We are working with our partners to learn more. The technology we use is built on standard algorithms that measure the difference in intensity of contrast between the eyes and the upper cheek and nose. We believe that the camera might have difficulty “seeing” contrast in conditions where there is insufficient foreground lighting.


The blog then offers a link to adjust the lighting on the camera's setting to "optimize your webcam experience."

That fix might work in some cases, but in case of "Black Desi" and "White Wanda," they appeared to be in a well-lit computer showroom.  The worst part about the whole thing, Desi says, "I bought one of these for Christmas."

We'll wait to hear more from HP on this issue.

 

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